One evening, almost two decades ago, I found myself standing amidst the ruins of a small Palestinian village, a high vantage-point from which to survey the landscape. The sun was setting, casting the muted colors of evening across the hills of the Upper Galilee and southern Lebanon. Lower on the tel I could see the active archaeological excavations revealing traces of the Persian, Hellenistic and Byzantine history of the site. Out of my line of sight, where the road cut through the lower northwest slope of the tel, was evidence of Early Bronze Age habitation. Across the road to the northeast, in the lee of a Roman temple, I could just make out the small pull-off and park where modern pilgrims came to picnic among Roman sarcophagi ascribed in popular imagination to Deborah and Barak of the period of the Judges. In the distance, dominating the viewshed, rose the mass of Djabal al-Shaykh / Mount Hermon. To the southwest, where the road wound uphill toward the border, stood the graffitied remains of a pillbox constructed by the British during the Mandate. Off to the east, somewhat obscured, lay the moshav with the guest-house where I was residing, maintained by a family who had emigrated from the Maghrib in 1963. In the lowlands just southeast of the tel were the grazing lands for the cattle of the kibbutz that was established in 1949, a few kilometers distant, by former members of the Palmach who had fought here. As for the hilltop village itself, a few courses of stone served to mark the footprints of some fifty homes while broken millstones and the remains of an olive-press, strewn here and there amid the overgrowth, bore mute witness to the rhythms of daily life for the village's few hundred occupants.
From the pull-off below, where a hero and heroine of the period of the Judges are imagined entombed within sarcophagi dating from many centuries later, the ruins of the village at the crest of the tel are invisible. Indeed, with the exception of being perched atop the Mandate-era pillbox with a good pair of binoculars, one will find very few hints of the village in the landscape, no architecture rising above the mulberries and thistles that are reclaiming the stones, no historic markers. There is nothing obvious on the basis of which a passerby might connect the spring that waters the kibbutz' cattle with the spring that sustained the village above.
First-hand memories of the village must remain, as it was only depopulated in May 1948. Yet those who might be most willing to reminisce were inaccessible. Careful questions at the moshav and kibbutz were met by and large with uncomfortable silence. Some stories were told: epic myths of Deborah and Barak... chronicles of the second-century BCE battle between Jonathan and Demetrias... archaeological narratives of a thriving administrative center during the Persian and Hellenistic Periods... personal narratives of emigration in 1963... but little with regard to the ruins of the village beyond a terse “they left.”
The village has a name. Indeed, the name by which the village was most recently known is a close derivation of the name by which the site has been known for millennia: from the Biblical geographies of Canaan and early Israel, to Greek and Roman historians, to tenth-century Arab geographers, to nineteenth-century British cartographers, to the entries in the official History of the Haganah documenting Operation Yiftach.
Narratives of nationalism acquire power through the codification of an imagined shared past of memories, history and myth. They often also demand a willful and necessary amnesia.
The name of this village, which nature reclaims and memories elide, is remembered as Qadas. Bitter irony, perhaps, in the name's meaning of “sanctuary.”